Thursday, 06 December 2012

The Ride Wild Coast Adventure - by Nicky Hoseck


The Ride Wild Coast Adventure

Everything at the farm this month has paled into insignificance when weighed against the incomparable thrill of the The Ride’s Wild Coast Adventure which I embarked on with Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson of The Ride last week. Joining us was a return guest, Victor Kee, who has spent many years taking clients riding over Exmoor. As it turned out, we were a pretty invincible team… well, not so pretty but definitely invincible!
 So, our mission was to cover 200km of stunning Wild Coast terrain in six days, departing from Umngazi River, north of Coffee Bay, and ending in Kei Mouth. The first leg of our journey was to box the horses up to the starting point. Our departure day dawned hot with strong winds, not making for the best conditions, but Julie-Anne and Clint drove on valiantly and we arrived at Umngazi in time to set up camp (for both horses and humans) and head out on a short orientation ride.


While this ride did little to prepare us for what was to come, it did give us a taste of the beautiful scenery and breathtaking vistas that the Wild Coast had in store for us. After an evening spent getting to know one another, I left the party watching themselves on TV, and snuck off to my deflatable mattress for a shoddy night’s sleep.

With only a short distance to cover on the first day, we allowed a significant amount of time for Barry to faff – something that would become as regular as coffee in the mornings to come – and then headed out on a bit of a stop start commencement to the day. And what a ride! This section was new to everyone and finding the correct path proved challenging – as did the path itself! Leading our horses, we scrambled along in knee-deep mud, fighting off the grabby branches and trying not to entangle ourselves or our horses in the numerous obstacles keen to hinder our progress.

After a hot and sweaty start to our ride, the terrain became slightly less exacting and we arrived at our first stop, The Kraal, in time for a spot of lunch and well-deserved swim in the warm waters of the Mpande river. An afternoon sojourn to the local shebeen (unofficial tavern) gave all the chance to kick back, relax and soak up the friendliness and hospitality of the Xhosa people.

Day three saw us covering +-40km from The Kraal to Mdumbi – it also presented us with our first big river swim. Under Barry and Joe’s expert guidance, we intrepidly strided out into the Mtakatye River, whose 100m wide expanse put a few butterflies in everyone’s stomachs. Despite a little unwillingness at the start of the swim, the horses ventured on valiantly and we all arrived safely and relatively gracefully on the other side and sat down to a lunch of river-soaked sandwiches (courtesy of me who had de-water-proofed them for reasons none of us could fathom).


 The next day was hot and we had some serious distance to complete so the pacing of the ride was vital. With Reign and Victor dropping back rather on some of the long hill climbs, we decided to swap horses in order to keep the day moving. With a lighter rider on his back, Reign soon found his feet and slotted in with the rest of the horses. The day ended even more beautifully than it had begun, with a ride through a curiously atmospheric dune forest and out for a last long beach canter and up through the river to Bulungula where we spent an idyllic night in a thatch lapa in the paddock with our horses.

We all awoke early the next morning, except for Joe who remained huddled in his Barbie sleeping bag even as one of the horses decided to investigate the lapa for any signs of food. And who can blame her? We all found Equifeeds so tempting in appearance that we sampled it and decided that it was a definite improvement on some of the foodstuffs us humans were being presented with for breakfast!

Now on our fourth day of riding, we were heading to The Haven, a section of the ride that I had been particularly looking forward to. The Haven is situated within the sister reserves of Dwesa and Cwebe which conserve one of the Eastern Cape’s largest remaining sections of indigenous coastal forest. As I have quite a thing for forests, I had been wanting to visit this area for a long time and the morning’s ride did much to emphasize the unique appeal of this arboreal wilderness.

We were all very relaxed, knowing that we only had around 20-25km to complete during the day, and so we added to our time in the saddle by losing equipment (I actually rode back in an effort to locate my GPS that was actually safely stowed away in my bag all along) and sustaining minor injuries. An unexpected branch scratched me on the nose enough for it to bleed profusely and require the expert first aid of Barry – i.e. he stuck a big piece of white tape on my nose, laughed at me and took photos – ahh, the bedside manner!


A quiet afternoon was enjoyed, sort of, by both horse and human, although Barry’s natural energy levels (approximately the same as a Duracell bunny) meant he had trouble with this concept and forced us all to drink copious quantities of red wine instead (I swear, I was an unwilling participant!). A wonderful evening of laughter and silliness saw me struggling to arise from my damp tent the next morning and I surfaced only just in time for breakfast.

From The Haven we continued our journey down the coast and our last night on the road would be spent at The Kob Inn, where I was back on familiar ground having recently ridden up there on our newly adjusted 7-day beach trail. It is a wet day from start to finish, with rain soaking us from above and rivers soaking us from below. Our first challenge is the Mbashe River which, with its grumpy greyness, notoriety and sharks, is enough to stir a little nervousness in me. It proves to be a straightforward wade across so, with that out of the way, I am all ready to enjoy a great day’s riding in the pouring rain!

The rain couldn't do much to dampen our spirits, although one or two unexpected rivers did take some of the fighting spirit out of our leader. With the countryside beginning to flatten out and the long beaches stretching ahead of us, it was an incredible day’s riding with the overcast, rainy weather providing good conditions for the horses and keeping us all cool and hydrated!

The wonderful hospitality and friendless of the Kob Inn’s proprietors and staff were a welcome luxury as we arrived sodden and shivering. Warm showers, big beds and great food were some of the highlights of the evening. A few more dry clothes would have been an added bonus but it was not meant to be, although the tumble-dried jeans and socks were a welcome sight (and sensation) the following morning.

Saturday marked the last day of our adventure and we had three rivers to cross and just over 50km to cover to our final destination. The day is pretty grey with intermittent rain and one of the horses is battling a little with chafing from the girth the day before. We adjust all her tack, do away with the martingale and set out with a whole new perspective – one which is primarily filled with chestnut ears as the head is flung around in celebration of this new liberty.

Shaan-Rae and Candis join up from The Kob Inn with us at the beginning of the ride but the fast pace soon separates the original four members of the team from our new companions. The beaches are fast and furious and the horses, now on familiar ground, are full of running. We hit the long beach before Wavecrest with a spring in our steps and plenty of banter about the gallop ahead. As I know the horses well, I also know that I am riding the fastest and it is not long before we drop, lengthen and leave the others behind. Although I have galloped this beach hundreds of times, it never fails to produce much exhilaration and the feeling of complete freedom. I wrote in my diary: “We are galloping into an abundant beauty where happiness pushes light into the shadows and illuminates the darkest corners of my soul.”

After a wade through the Nxaxo River, we eat lunch quickly and continue on our way. We usually take one full day to ride back from Wavecrest to Kei Mouth, and now we are hoping to squeeze it into a couple of hours – which we manage successfully. Although the guys have let me lead the way since Wavecrest, I lose all control when we hit the golf course and watch in horror as they canter heedlessly up the fairway, threatening to destroy our already strained relations with our neighbouring golfers! Joe’s excuse was that he forgot to put his horse’s bit in – Barry’s was that he’s simply pig-headed and doesn't play golf!

What an incredible week! I feel almost homesick for the adventure and for the companionship of both humans and horses. This trip has inspired me to dream beyond my comfort zone, plan new challenges for myself and my horse, give up smoking, and basically change the entire way I approach life and horses. “Right now, in this tiny moment, there is no one who can clip the wings of my freedom. Together, my horse and I, we can conquer untold wonders and discover all that lies beyond these horizons.”

For more info on how you can be part of our Wild Coast Horseback Adventures - go to our web site


Tuesday, 04 December 2012

Barry Armitage Wild Coast Recce day 5

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 5

Wild Coast Recce: day 5

December, 2012 | No Comments
We had had a bit of a party at The Haven. The pool table had beckoned and as is the norm when playing this game we had a few drinks or rather, a few more drinks! Victor treated us to a fit of his very special giggles kicked off by the recounting of a misunderstanding between him and Joe around Jacob Zuma that had happened while riding that day. A Xhosa man had walked past us on the beach wearing a t-shirt with the image of our president printed on it. Victor had greeted him in the only word of Xhosa that he knew “molo” and Joe said “Jacob Zuma” making note of the picture on the guys t-shirt! A ridiculous conversation ensued with Victor convinced that “Jacob Zuma” was the plural of the greeting “molo” and Joe not too quick to let on that it wasn’t! It had us all in stitches!
It rained extremely hard in the night and our tent leaked resulting in even more wet clothes. The rain eased slightly by morning but everything in the world was soggy.
We dithered before setting off undecided about whether to wear wet weather gear or not as the rain had eased up and we wanted to avoid that poaching feeling that a waterproof jacket gives when you are wet underneath, when the day warms a little and you are generating body heat from physical exertion. We decided to go without, carrying our jackets in our cantle bags.
The mighty Mbashe River was shallow and wide but our obvious crossing point was guarded by patches of sinking sand and we chose to cross at the mouth instead; it was over 200m wide at this point and I set out ahead of the others to make sure that there were no surprises in store. There weren’t and we all crossed without our boots hitting the water. Joe and I have ways feared the crossing of the mighty Mbashe but it has always been kind to us, allowing us to cross her sometimes formidable waters without incident.After that we alternated fast exhilarating beach riding with long extended trots on winding paths into the ever flattening hills, able to get into good rhythm and maintain a steady pace; not too fast, good for the horses, and good for covering ground.
This section of the trail feels very remote; we are still in the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve and winding up some steep heavily vegetated hills desperate for some heavy grazing or a fire. We ploughed through this rampant greenery, me promising myself to bring a machete next time, before descending onto some very lonely beaches that seem never to have seen man. We then cut inland a bit riding through beautiful mature forest on well established tracks, and exited the reserve through the front gate.Our next river crossing was what Joe and I call Bunker Boat House River or the Nqabara River, the spelling of which offers little suggestion of how it should be said unless you are a fluent Xhosa speaker. This is not one for Vincent’s fledgling Xhosa! The rain had started again with some intent so the swim across the Nqabara just added to our abject state of wetness. In this weather soggy was the new dry!
The countryside flattens steadily towards our overnight stop at the holiday resort of Kob Inn and we were able to move through the landscape with an efficient rhythm even though the rain was chucking down. We had long since resorted to our foul weather gear as the temperature had dropped markedly and I was snug in my new bright coral red UVU jacketwhich breathes beautifully avoiding that dreaded poached feeling of most  rain jackets.
The last river of the day was the Shixini, another spelling that defies the spoken word, and required just enough swimming to get us properly wet just in case the rain had missed some secluded spot. We were all looking forward to a hot shower, dry clothes and the comforts of a room at Kob Inn after a long 42km day. We were all in a buoyant mood though; there was just one more day to go of our Wild Coast Adventure, albeit our longest, and the horses were doing well.
For more information on The Ride’s Wild Coast Adventure Trail go to: http://www.barryarmitage.com/expeditions/wild-coast-adventure-trail

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Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 6

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 6


Wild Coast Recce: day 6

December, 2012 | No Comments
The last day of our little caper down the Wild Coast was the longest, a 50km run from Kob Inn to Kei Mouth. The rain was still chucking down and although our jeans had dried the rest of our gear was still soaked. The toughest part of my day is always hauling on sodden clothing, socks and boots but it was reasonably academic as it was raining and the first river crossing was just a kilometer away, promising another thorough drenching!
We left Kob Inn mid morning, timed to coincide with the low tide to give us easy river crossings and wide stretches of hard sand on the beach for our last day of exhilarating gallops. The landscape flattens considerably making the riding flow easily from the beaches, through green tunnels in the occasional narrow bands of coastal bush. to paths on the gently undulating grassy slopes; in short, fabulous steady riding perfect for eating up the distance ahead.
It was going to be a long day in the saddle and the four of us knew that we needed to push on whenever possible. We had bonded well as a group, united by our shared experience. Victor, far tougher than his outward appearance, had us in stitches most of the day with his quirky Irish sense of humour and had fueled the team building banter for most the trail. He was having the ride of his life. Quiet Nicky was living her dream of expanding her experience of riding the Wild Coast, a quiet smile crossing her face when my eye caught hers from time to time. I suspect she was in that zone that I get into toward the end of a ride. You know that it is coming to an end bringing on a slight case of the blues as you realize that a return to “real life” is imminent, but, you have bonded with your horse and fellow riders and the unit is working well together, covering ground efficiently, allowing your mind to wander to the experiences of preceding days. These are experienced as group but within that each person has a unique experience formed by the combination of man (or woman) and beast, each with a mind of their own, and the challenges presented by the landscape. There had been countless steep hills, hot days, muddy tight forest tracks requiring us to lead the horses for considerable distances, rocky outcrops to negotiate, and of course the river crossings. Most people are slightly daunted by the first swim with their horse but everyone grows to enjoy the feeling of achievement when reaching the far bank, especially when it has been as long as the 180m swim to cross the Mtakatye.
The landscape unrolled before us, each of us silent with our own thoughts for long periods, through one stunning setting after the other: picturesque cove, tranquil forest fringed bay, aloe pocked hillside, striking rock formation smashed by  perfectly formed waves, sublime beachscape punctuated with serene sleek long horned cattle! It was all there magnificent to behold but I had stopped feeling the need to photograph it, I just wanted to experience this landscape and the wonderful zone I was in with my homeward bound horse Tara, and my companions.
As we neared our destination the sea dirtied slightly, announcing the presence of the Kei River, for so long the boundary of the Cape Colony under British rule. This is Nicky’s back yard, she has been riding here for the last five years and I was happy to hand over the lead to her and be a passenger for a while. We were riding fast on easy winding paths, soft underfoot for the horses, travelling in an extended trot or slow canter. And then, suddenly, we were there, riding on flat ground down the northern bank of the Kei toward the pont that would carry us and our horses across the river to the hamlet of Kei Mouth. Our fabulous ride was over!
Joe and I don’t often ride long distances with other people and it was great to have the opportunity to do so and in the process make two new friends in Nicky and Victor who really rose to the challenge of this adventure. Thanks to Julie-Anne Gower from Wild Coast Horseback Adventures our partner in this venture and her wonderful horses Tara, Tamsim, Tene-sea and Reign.

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Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 4

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 4


Wild Coast Recce: day 4

December, 2012 | No Comments
Our fourth day was short,  just 21km. This was forced on us by the mighty Mbashe River, its size and tendency to be fast flowing making it imperative that we cross it on the low tide which fell mid-morning. We couldn’t hope to achieve this in one day after leaving Bulungula so these circumstances made for a natural “rest” day; much needed for the horses who had had a tough 40km the previous day and would be faced with over 40km on each of the following days.
It was a quick ride from Bulungula across the hills to the first river crossing of the day, the Xora. After which there was good fast beach riding on the hard sand offered by the low tide before we headed into the forests of the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve. These coastal forests are quite enchanting; they are strangely quiet with just a few bird calls to remind you that there are other living things out there. The trees crowd in around you often closing over above your head, a dark tunnel of green insulating you from the outside world allowing little opportunity for the big views down the coast that we had become so used to. We were riding along a well established track  but every so often a fallen tree or branch would block the way requiring me to cut away the fallen limbs and the ever attendant thorny creepers. These creepers with their countless little hooked thorns send tendrils out into the path looking for unsuspecting passers-by. Sitting high on a horse a rider is particularly susceptible to being snagged by one of these nasty lurkers, which actually seem to reach out and grab at you, shredding skin and clothing as you pass. Leading the ride I am particularly exposed to these mean barbed tendrils and shout a warning to those behind, a yelp of pain indicating those not quick enough to duck or weave out of the way.
There is another lurker on these forest paths: spiders! They spin their webs perfectly at head height and there is no missing them! You can deflect them with a hand if quick enough, but if not you get them full in the face prompting a fit hand flapping, spluttering from me and a fit giggles from those behind.
As we got to a junction in the road, the last turn to take us to The Haven, I realized that I had dropped Joe’s Leatherman which I had used to saw through a sizable branch blocking the track a few kilometres before. I left Joe to lead Nicky and Victor the last few kilometres to The Haven and headed back to look for the missing bit of hardware. It is tough to retrace ground that you have already covered on a ride like this and I was acutely aware that it was cutting into Tara’s rest time and would contribute to her fatigue, so I decided to walk leading her back up the track until I found the knife or reached the place where I had cut the branch. It was about 3 km, I guessed, adding 6km to the days ride. It made me grumpy that I had been so daft and put unnecessary pressure on Tara. I walked scanning the track in front of me knowing that my chance of finding the knife was slim. When I reached the point, sweat pouring off me from my exertions in the coastal humidity, where I had cut the branch I was glum, but as I began the return journey I saw Joe’s blade at the side of the track, a leaf screening it from my earlier view. I felt ridiculously proud of myself and treated myself by hopping on to Tara who was also upbeat realizing that we were heading back to her mates. It was a great ride back to The Haven, a bit too quick, but I felt that I had earned it and Tara was game. I recorded it in a short video which gives a real sense of what it is like riding through this wonderfully gloomy green forest tunnel on horseback slightly too fast, with the line of the pale track showing you the way. When we arrived, Tara, who had been making all sorts of happy horse noises on the last kilometre, was overjoyed to see her mates from whom she had been separated for not much more than an hour: silly sentimental creature!
Another great day of riding was behind us. We had passed the halfway point of our journey somewhere in the forest and the horses were going well and looking good for the last two days of our Wild Coast adventure.
Read the next instalment here
For more information on The Ride’s Wild Coast Adventure Trail go to: http://www.barryarmitage.com/expeditions/wild-coast-adventure-trail

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Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 3

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 3


Wild Coast Recce: day 3

November, 2012 | No Comments
We headed out from Mdumbi Backpackers after breakfast, once again timing our departure to coincide with a low tide crossing of the biggest river of the day, the Mthata; a deep water swim of about 50m. There is a ferryman at the crossing which gave us the opportunity to shed gear and swim unencumbered, a real treat. I went first leading Victors horse Reign, as Victor was kindly filming our crossing from the ferryman’s boat. It went well until Reign decided to turn back pulling the lead reign out of my hand. I turned Tara to fetch him but seeing Joe and Nicky half way across and going strong with their horses he decided to follow alone. I gave Tara a short rest in waist deep water before following; she pulled hard, eager to get to her friends, puffing and snorting till her hooves hit the far bank, a great swim despite the slight hiccup at the start.
Next was a short ride along high ground with great views, before dropping down to the small tourist hamlet of Coffee Bay. Normally we would spend the night here giving the horses a rest day and guests the chance to enjoy some time on the beach but we are doing this reconnaissance ride in six days so pushed on without pause.
The day was a tough 42km in all, across steep country and we pushed on to our half way point at the geological marvel Hole in the Wall where we planned to stop for lunch. It was a hot day so when we spotted a Spaza shop, a converted shopping container, we stopped to buy a drink. Drinks are always super cold around here as shopkeepers use gas powered chest freezers, the problem being drinks rather too cold! While we were getting this super cool energy giving sweet stuff down our throats a donkey train hauling sacks of maize meal came past. It was an incredible sight, twenty odd donkeys with a bag of maize meal strung on each side, not led nor connected to each other, walking up the road to their destination, their driver wandering along behind doing nothing much more than simply following along. They must have done this run a hundred times and knew the drill taking their bags of this staple foodstuff to their customers in the Transkei hills.
Hole in the Wall appears quite suddenly as you emerge from the coastal milk wood forest; a hunk of grass topped rock stuck in the middle of yet another idyllic bay. It didn’t reveal its surprise immediately, but as we tracked down the stony beach the hole in its centre opened up to us, the waves theatrically washing through the 20m wide gap.We waded the Mpako River and flopped on the grass under a milk wood tree to have out lunch, staring out into the bay at the amazing scene made all the more surreal when a Red Bull stunt plane roared over the hills and treated us to an aerial display centred around this chunk rock that was also the centre of our lunch time attention. Great, but slightly surreal, entertainment in this remote spot!
The afternoon took us over yet more steep green hills of stupefying beauty, with long views of the rugged coast to the southwest offered to us at every crest, before plunging into gullies to cross small streams choked with bush. Then it was a blast down the beach to finish the day, pulling the horses up for a wade across the river in front of the lawn of Bulungula Backpackers. It had been a long day in the saddle and the hills had taken it out of both the horses and us. We were tired but all felt a real sense of achievement in having crossed some very rugged country.Bulungula is a special place, an earthy yet stylish backpackers run by the local community that is immediately welcoming, exuding warmth and a confidence born of success.
Read the next installment here
For more information on The Ride’s Wild Coast Adventure Trail go to: http://www.barryarmitage.com/expeditions/wild-coast-adventure-trail

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Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 2

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » Wild Coast Recce: day 2


Wild Coast Recce: day 2

November, 2012 | 1 Comment
Day two of this trail is a challenging 44km which starts with a good fast beach ride and cantering through the hills on a dirt road, every rise offering yet another view of this astonishingly beautiful and dramatic coastline. It is almost impossible for me to explain this richly theatrical wild landscape so I am going to let the pictures do it for me!
We were to traverse the Hluleka Nature Reserve, a route that Joe and I had not taken before, and which required us to negotiate a stretch of rocky coast line to get around the perimeter fence. It was rougher going than expected but the barefoot Wild Coast Horseback Adventures horses, used to working on this coastline, handled it superbly, picking their way carefully across the rocks like kids rock hooping from rock pool to rock pool. This rocky jaunt was worth it as the reserve is thick with beautiful coastal forest and the well kept roads were a dream, allowing us to let the horses loose for a long steady canter to the reserve’s main gate.
After 22km we approached one of the biggest swims of the ride, the Mtakatye River, through steep hills and a slushy mangrove swamp thick with sucking black mud. We had planned to arrive two hours after low tide when the estuary had emptied of water and the sea had begun gently pushing its way inland again; the conditions were perfect. We waterproofed electronics and bagged up gear in two bright orange heavy duty plastic bags to float behind me on a 10m floating line. I took Nicky and Victor out of the mangroves on foot to the edge of the river for a quick briefing about how to tackle this swim of over 100m. I would lead, with Nicky and Victor following and Joe coming across last.  Instructions to Nicky and Victor were, if things did not go perfectly with their swim to simply let their horse go and swim across alone, a relaxed swim across a beautiful estuary much like we had enjoyed the previous afternoon at Mpande are after our ride. The horses would either follow the lead horse or turn back where Joe would pick it up and lead it across.
We mounted up and rode the horses out across the mud flat, needing to urge them strongly to take the plunge into the deep water channel. Nicky and I had swapped horses as Tamzin was the clear leader of the bunch, but once we hit the water Nicky powered past me and my attendant orange bags with the strong swimming Tara. It was a long haul but was completed with some style by all. We felt a great sense of achievement at having got across, tethered the horses for a rest and to get some grass, and flopped down on the grass to eat our sandwiches. They had been in zip lock plastic bags when I had seen them that morning but some wise soul had taken them out to fit them into our non sealing lunch boxes! I gently squeezed the excess sea water from the bread and enjoyed my salty soggy lunch!More word defying scenery followed and at one unknown little river we were treated to a view that would be hard to better. High above the little stretched out lagoon below an aloe strewn slope, we could look back north east up the rugged coast we had ridden down for the last day and a half, an incredible sight.One more obstacle lay between us and the end of our riding day, the Mdumbi River. It has a broad mostly shallow lagoon before the narrow but deep channel to the sea, and we headed to this hoping to avoid a swim. We didn’t, but being towed by a swimming horse through water as clear as a glass of Mongolia’s finest vodka …ok, ok…the crystal clear azure waters of a subtropical lagoon was hardly something to begrudge!
It was a short steep ride to Mdumbi Backpackers where we were staying for the night and once again, after settling the horses in, we wandered up the road to buy a cold beer and sit for a while gazing at this bewitching coastline with Wolfie, the friendly dog that had accompanied us from the backpackers. Cocktail hour Transkei style is becoming an institution on this ride!
Read the next instalment here
For more information on The Ride’s Wild Coast Adventure Trail go to: http://www.barryarmitage.com/expeditions/wild-coast-adventure-trail

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Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » On the Road Again

Barry Armitage » Blog Archive » On the Road Again